Canada - youth survey finds levels of cigarillo use persist, but users don't consider themselves 'smokers'..

June 5, 2010 - The results of the latest national Youth Smoking Survey (YSS) indicate that youth are not seeing cigarillos as harmful as cigarettes, supporting the need for impending Bill C-32. (The Youth Smoking Survey (YSS) is Canada’s only national survey of student smoking. Funded by Health Canada, it was created to study the factors that increase and diminish the likelihood of tobacco use among youth. The results of the survey support the development and evaluation of polices and programs aimed at reducing smoking and, ultimately, saving lives.)

Passed in October 2009, Bill C-32 contained an immediate ban on tobacco advertising in newspapers and magazines. A ban on flavoured cigarettes, little cigars and blunt wraps at the manufacturer/import level followed on April 6, 2010, and by July 5, 2010 these flavoured tobacco products will be banned at the retail level.

2008-09 version of the survey, released in conjunction with World No Tobacco Day, found that 9 percent - 247,504 youth - in Grades 6 to 12 smoked cigarillos or little cigars in the last month. Yet new data indicate that 85 percent of youth who smoked just cigarillos or little cigars considered themselves "non-smokers," versus 33 percent of who smoked just cigarettes.

"Tobacco is tobacco - it's addictive and has health risks that appear no matter what form it comes in," said Steve Manske, senior scientist at the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo, who conducted the survey. Manske admits he's concerned about the large group of youth who are slipping through the cracks because they don't consider themselves at risk.

"If a kid doesn't perceive himself to be a smoker because he is 'only' smoking cigarillos, a prevention program will not be effective. Similarly, efforts to help kids quit smoking won't reach the cigarillo smokers, because they don't consider themselves smokers," Manske said. He also warns about modelling behaviour, where youth who haven't yet tried this form of tobacco may be more inclined to because their friends perceive it as less harmful.

Currently, nearly all cigarillos are flavoured, many of which appeal to youth, such as strawberry, mint, vanilla, chocolate and cherry. Their packaging may seem harmless, mimicking those of candy wrappers and prior to April 6, 2010, they could be sold individually, making them more affordable.

The latest YSS reports that 33 percent of cigarillo or little cigar smokers bought them from retail sources, which will change after the legislation comes into effect on July 5, 2010. Still, 37 percent of youth bought them from social sources and 30 percent did not buy cigarillos or little cigars. This last group may account for sharing among other youth.

Manske also believes that the new legislation will not entirely eliminate the problem, as companies that market cigarillos may redesign their products to get around the "little cigar" definition in Bill C-32.

"We're making inroads by accelerating the generation and use of relevant and timely evidence to inform decision makers to improve the health of Canadian youth, but there is still a long road ahead," said Manske. "As a starting point, our efforts to prevent youth from smoking, and encourage those who are to quit, must be expanded beyond a traditional focus on cigarettes in order to help kids stay tobacco-free."

Reference: Youth survey finds levels of cigarillo use persist, but users don't consider themselves 'smokers'Waterloo Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, Waterloo University, 5/31/2010.

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